The Patient Speaks

I admit to the fact that I am very competitive and a data junkie.  I love to look at market research and try to find areas where I can find out more about my customers than my competition.  I am also a huge advocate of talking with and observing customers, in that I believe the combination of data and observation allows us to make the wisest business decisions.

Before I go on to discuss a recent study, I would like you to try to guess the answers to the following questions from the point of view of those who have had a serious illness over the last 12 months and those who have not.  How would they rate the quality of care in the US?  How do they think about the cost issues?  How have the cost issues impacted their lives?  What do patients think about the value of care they get for the money they spend?  Where do they put the blame for rising healthcare costs?

NPR has done tremendous work along with Robert Wood Johnson and the Harvard School of Public Health (see article) looking at the way patients view the healthcare system.  Take a look at the article and listen to the stories, if you can stand it.  If this report was viewed as the year end report card for those of us in healthcare, I am not sure we would be graduating.

It is important to always think of the context of what we are talking about.  This study was done in a country where we constantly talk about having the best healthcare system in the world and spend double what the next closest country spends on a per person basis.  The $8,000 we spend per person annually or $2.6 trillion total, doesn’t seem to be resulting in patient satisfaction.  Take a closer look at the data and note that of those who were seriously sick in the last year, 27% of adults, 4 out of 10 report this has led to very serious or serious financial difficulties.  The quality of care doesn’t fare much better.

Take a look at slide 31 in this deck of charts and see that the patients clearly put the blame of rising healthcare costs on the drug companies.  Note on this slide, we are viewed even worse than hospitals and insurance companies.  I don’t get it, but that is what they say.  We are either doing a real lousy job getting our message out on the value of pharmaceuticals or the prices have just gotten out of control.  The bottom line is that we are dead center in the middle of this mess and need to really start building strategy on how to fix it.

To further reinforce the issue, take a look at this New York Times piece and watch the video.  How do you think these patients would rate the system?   Do you think they will be using branded pharmaceuticals?

Last week, I talked about having empathy for all customer groups.  Empathy is not about pity.  It is about thoroughly understanding your customers and in this case the patient customers that actually use your drug.  It is through this understanding that strategic plans and decisions can be made to allow both the patient and the drug companies to profit.  Keep in mind that profit is money and not percentages.  Margins may need to be lower if we are going to continue to profit.  Think about this concept for a minute.

Have you ever shown data like we see in this report to upper management and then discuss possible solutions?  We all have ways of avoiding these discussions by saying things like Medicaid is just impossible to work with from a P&L standpoint, or we have a nice indigent program, or as long as the vouchers keep the co-pay under $35 or whatever.

All of these little tricks don’t seem to be working as the branded number of prescriptions continue to drop.  Launches continue to disappoint.  Patients don’t seem all that satisfied with what we do as drug companies or the entirety of healthcare.  If marketing is about satisfying customers, we may be falling short.  When will some bold actions be taken and who will lead the charge?  Patients are speaking, but are we listening?

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